Landlord Successfully Hunger Strikes For Landlord Rights, Can Now Throw Family Out On The Street

Landlord Successfully Hunger Strikes For Landlord Rights, Can Now Throw Family Out On The Street

For the last year or so, more and more people have been complaining about the unhoused population. I'm not talking about people who care about the poor and indigent and want to help them find housing and other necessities, but rather people who have been annoyed by having to look at the rising number of people living on the street during their daily commute. This has been a particularly big deal in California, which by sheer coincidence is also the state with the third highest average rent in the nation. Also, by sheer coincidence, unhoused populations have skyrocketed in particular in California counties that lifted their COVID-era eviction moratoriums.

They called it an "eviction tsunami."

Alameda County in California will now join these other counties and end its COVID-era eviction moratorium at the end of April, caving to pressure from a group of local landlords traumatized by the loss of their passive income source — including one who was on a full on hunger strike, refusing to eat until granted the ability to kick his tenants out on their asses.

Landlord George Wu, who owns a three-unit apartment building, went on a hunger strike for 70 hours this week protesting the eviction moratorium that he says has prevented him from getting $120,000 in passive income since it was first imposed during the pandemic. By the end of it, he was sitting in a wheelchair in front of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors' office, too weak to stand.

"Not eating food, a hunger strike will definitely harm him," said Jenny Zhao, one of Wu's other tenants who interpreted for him. "It is Oakland, so safety is a real concern, he figured that this is his only way to make his story heard."

I would be really impressed by this almost-three-day hunger strike except for how I am a woman who lived through the late '90s and early 2000s, or "The Special K Challenge" years.

Wu also put out signs reading "Eviction moratorium ruins my life" and "My son needs tuition fee" and "End the abuse!" He says that he will soon have to file bankruptcy. It is worth noting that if this guy was not getting rent for three years and was owed $120,000, then he was charging this family in the neighborhood of $3,330 a month to rent an apartment. Another sign said "Tenant and landlord are not enem[ies of] each other. Where can tenant live without housing providers?"

Probably not in a $3,330 a month apartment. That would be a large part of the problem.

Tenant rights organizations warn that this could cause Alameda County to experience an "eviction tsunami" of its own, exacerbating the already high rate of homelessness in the area — though The Oaklandside reports that Joshua Howard, an executive with landlord advocacy group California Apartment Association, has said that totally will not happen. Surely, we should all take his word on the matter.

It is totally understandable that Wu and others who rely on that passive income are frustrated by not receiving it (though they are still able to sue their tenants for rent as well as apply for rental assistance programs meant to help them recoup the loss from eviction moratoriums). Wu says that his tenants can actually afford the rent and are just choosing not to pay it because of the eviction moratorium. That sucks — but there are remedies for his problem that do not involve kicking people out onto the street who actually cannot pay.

Landlords are not victims. They are very lucky people who are able to own properties and rent them out to people without doing very much actual work themselves. And now some are even suggesting (however tongue in cheek) that they ought to get tipped on top of being paid rent.

The problem we have, ultimately, is that the amount landlords want to be able to charge people to live does simply does not line up with the amount many employers want to pay people to live in the area where they need them to work. The average individual income in Alameda County is around $45K. The average rent per year is $32,436 or $2703 per month, with more than 95 percent of apartments costing over $2000 a month. Wu was charging something approaching 40K, or $3330 a month. If we apply the rule that rent should be one-third of one's income, the average rent should be $1125 a month there. Not twice that or three times that.

Now, of course these things are not going to work out exactly perfectly like that, but it's hard to have empathy for the plight of the "housing providers" and "job creators" when this is what is going on. It's especially hard to listen to people whine about how they don't like to look at homeless people all the time and then also get mad about the idea of raising the minimum wage to one people can actually live on — which, for an individual in Alameda County, would be $22.35 an hour (the current minimum wage is $15.25).

There has to be some kind of balance here. If landlords don't want to be the enemy, they're going to need to stop charging more for rent than people can feasibly pay. Otherwise no one is going to feel too badly for them when they go on hunger strikes for landlord rights.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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